COP26: What’s the deal?

November 17, 2021

Another international climate summit has wrapped up, and, like the others, it had a ton going on: delegates from nearly 200 countries, 100,000 activists, and lots of anticipation (maybe too much). (For a quick 101 on the world of climate talks and on COP26 in Glasgow, see our blog and this cheat sheet on key terms.)

The goal was to hammer out what countries will actually do, together, to combat climate change, with the aim of keeping the warming of the planet below 1.5 degrees Celsius, a target set in the 2015 Paris Agreement beneath which scientists say it is critical to stay. 

While the transparency, cooperation, and peer pressure these climate summits enable are an important piece of the puzzle, we shouldn’t look to a gathering of national governments to save us. Things are moving and picking up speed—often out of the spotlight; these summits aren’t “at-bats” and we’re not “striking out”. Instead, David Roberts offers a deflationary take that is much more accurate and helpful:

“…National governments are often going to be in the caboose of this train — civic groups, the private sector, and subnational governments are leading the way. That’s distributed all over the world, less easy to see and sum up, but it shows that the caution and intransigence of national governments are not the whole story.

COP26 was a snapshot of a world — agonizingly slowly but with gathering speed — moving to address a crisis. There’s no reason for anyone to stop pushing, but there’s also nothing wrong with acknowledging and celebrating the progress that’s been achieved by all the pushing so far.”

So here’s what went down at COP26 and what that means for you.

Progress made

Without question, COP26 was a major show of force. For two weeks straight, it topped news headlines, and the reporting was among the most comprehensive ever for this kind of event. As the biggest climate conference in history, with nearly 40,000 registered delegates, it forced the world’s attention on climate change and underscored the need to take action in this critical decade, not in some distant future. In the U.S. case, it attracted participants from all sides of the political spectrum (and they weren’t all necessarily knocking climate science), suggesting that momentum is building in the right direction.

A key goal in Glasgow was to finalize the Paris Agreement’s “rule book,” the nitty-gritty guidelines required to flesh out and strengthen the 2015 agreement. Not everyone was happy with the results, but the job got done (so we give it a “plus” for effort). The final Glasgow Pact calls on countries to beef up their climate targets annually (instead of every five years) and includes rules for implementing carbon markets, which enable countries to meet their climate targets in part by trading “credits” or offsets for emission cuts by others. The pact also calls for stronger technical assistance to help vulnerable (mostly poorer, developing) countries address climate-related “loss and damage” and renews a pledge of $100 billion annually in financing to help countries green their economies, shift to clean energy, and become more resilient to climate disaster.

Perhaps the most exciting outcome of COP26 was the inclusion of the “f-word”: fossil fuels. While this doesn’t seem like a huge milestone, the Glasgow pact was the first official summit text in 25+ years of climate talks to explicitly mention the need to curb fossil fuel use. 

Outside the formal talks, notable pledges abounded: at least 105 countries agreed to slash emissions of methane (a potent greenhouse gas) 30 percent by the end of this decade; 130 countries vowed to halt deforestation by 2030 and to commit billions of dollars toward the effort; more than 40 countries agreed to phase out coal power in the coming decades; 6 automakers and 30 countries said they’ll phase out sales of gas- and diesel-powered cars and will work toward selling only zero-emissions vehicles by 2040; the U.S. and China issued a surprise joint statement that they’d do more to cut emissions this decade; and major financial institutions said they’d mobilize funding for clean energy.

In addition, several major countries, including India and Saudi Arabia, announced ambitious new targets to reach “net zero” emissions in the coming decades. This is a big deal, considering that until recently, net zero pledges covered only about 30 percent of the global economy, whereas now that share is close to 90 percent. Based on these outcomes, COP26 “has already helped summon more ambition to face this emergency than the world has ever seen,” noted U.S. climate envoy John Kerry.  The International Energy Agency estimates that if countries actually follow through on their emission reduction pledges and long-term plans, the world could potentially limit warming to 1.8 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. This brings us much closer to “keeping 1.5 alive” than we were before.

What COP26 can’t do

Of course, this is all a big “if.” Everything outlined above is just a promise on paper, with little action so far and little accountability. Staying even within 1.8 degrees of warming assumes that countries like Australia, Brazil, and China will all meet their promises of reaching net zero emissions by around 2050, but concrete plans, policies, or funding to follow through are still lacking. National climate pledges are still considered too weak to avoid catastrophic warming, and most countries are on track to miss them. “The reality is you’ve got two different truths going on,” said Helen Mountford with the World Resources Institute. “We’ve made much more progress than we ever could’ve imagined a couple years ago. But it’s still nowhere near enough.” Without follow-up action, this and every other COP risks falling into the pit of youth activist Greta Thunberg’s three-word summary of the proceedings: “Blah, blah, blah.”

Many of the well-meaning pledges feature vague timelines and language, are rife with loopholes, and leave out major contributing countries or players. The fossil fuel industry also had a strong presence at the event (by one estimate, it represented a larger group than any single country). Although the Glasgow pact at least mentions fossil fuels, it does so while weakening the language on the need to reduce massive subsidies for coal, oil, and natural gas (estimated at $423 billion annually). The final text sneaks in what one critic termed “weasel words,” calling for the phase-down (not “phase-out”) of unabated coal power and of inefficient subsidies—all of which give countries an out for continuing destructive practices. 

The climate summit also revealed the limitations of…well…climate summits—and of the international climate regime more broadly. For one, the Washington Post revealed that many countries actually underreport their greenhouse gas emissions in their submissions to the United Nations, which calls into question the whole effort to measure and track emissions, which relies on data accuracy. Decisions made at the COP must also be unanimous, with every participating country agreeing to the final wording of agreements, which inevitably leads to watered-down results. From an equity perspective, activists called COP26 “the most exclusive COP in history,” with the high cost of attending leading to a lack of global representation and a power imbalance in the negotiating rooms. The carbon footprint of the event itself was estimated to be double that of the previous COP (most of it coming from air travel). 

COP26 offered the U.S. a chance to resume its global leadership. But it also revealed that the country may only be “back” to a limited extent, given the tough political climate back home. As one of the biggest contributors to global warming, the U.S. needs to drastically cut its emissions. But President Biden faces immense political and economic barriers. Although Congress was able to approve the recent $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, which includes billions of dollars to help lessen the impacts of climate disasters, the funding and policies needed to actually cut U.S. emissions are still pending, including a $555 billion investment in incentives and programs to promote clean energy and electric vehicles (measures that could bring the U.S. about halfway to its goal of halving emissions by 2030). 

The path forward

Ultimately, it’s unrealistic to think that a single conference can solve our climate challenges. A climate summit can establish common ground and help transform the mindset around the issue, but, as David Roberts aptly observed, “a COP agreement can’t make a country do anything.”

We can’t wait for a collection of more than 200 countries to collectively agree upon one set of rules, and then all follow them in unison. Think of the global climate solutions movement less of a finely tuned symphony in constant harmony, and more of an improv jazz ensemble with many players and instruments joining at different times and with different levels of influence; at times finding harmony, and other times forging their own path.

One of the criticisms of recent climate activism is that the pendulum has swung too far toward blaming “the system”, neglecting the role that individuals can play. Of course, some actions can only be taken by governments. But we need to take immediate steps at all levels: global, regional, national, local, and—yes—individual. 

As individuals, we need to recognize the important influence we have—both in our personal lives and collectively—in shaping the future of the planet. Most of us understand what’s at stake: in polls, nearly 70 percent of U.S. adults say global warming is a serious problem. But so many Americans who are able to aren’t voting, talking, driving, and powering their homes like it.

We each have some combination of skills, resources, time, and energy to bring to the table—and a great first step is to find your role in the clean energy transition by visiting the CTA below. It’s time to get off the sidelines and get in the game.




Comedians Conquering Climate Change: our new podcast

November 11, 2021

It’s officially Launch Day for our brand new podcast, Comedians Conquering Climate Change.  We’re pretty sure it’s the funniest, most accessible, and shortest podcast addressing today’s critical climate and clean energy topics available in the podcast-sphere. We’ve published two episodes so far and have more coming each week, so check it out here.

What’s this project all about?

Comedians Conquering Climate Change is the funniest, most accessible, shortest podcast addressing today’s critical climate and clean energy topics. Our host, comedian, writer, and teacher Esteban Gast, is joined each week by a fellow comedian to single-handedly save the planet. Need we say more?

Why did Gen180 make this?

The core of our work here at Generation180 is changing the narrative around climate and clean energy. In order to get to a clean energy future, we’re going to need more than just alarm, doom, and gloom. We need a compelling, accessible vision of the future, a focus on solutions, and a stronger dose of emotions—like hope, resilience, and humor. Humor is a powerful tool that has been underutilized in the climate movement to date. It can lower defenses, introduce new perspectives, and it travels much further than data and pie charts do online.

What’s funny about climate change?

If the above ☝🏽 explanation didn’t convince you, here’s another attempt: Yes, the climate crisis is an existential threat that is deadly serious business. But humor helps us tackle serious topics all the time (there are countless sitcoms, books, standup comedy, and even humor-based protests as examples of this). As comedian Rollie Williams says, “Climate change is an emergency, but it’s not a sprint.” This podcast is a moment to take a breath, have a laugh, and learn something all at the same time. 

Much more to come! Make sure to subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts or Spotify (or your favorite podcasting platform) to catch weekly episodes as they’re released.


States are moving the needle on climate action

November 10, 2021

A Bloomberg study in 2015 found a compelling pattern about how social change happens in the United States. The pattern is this: Throughout history, a few states took the initiative on passing laws about important issues – interracial marriage, women’s suffrage, same-sex marriage, to name a few. Then a key event triggered more states to follow suit, leading to changes in federal laws establishing, for example, people’s right to marry who they love and women’s right to vote.

Could a similar pattern follow for meaningful action on the climate crisis? We hope so.   For years, states and tribal nations have taken the lead on bold climate action. Let’s take a look at both new and long-standing efforts by states to reduce carbon emissions and help the nation transition to a clean energy future – regardless of federal action.

Laws that move states toward 100% clean energy

In July, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown signed a bill into law that moves the state toward 100% clean energy by 2040, tying with New York for the fastest statewide timeline. Oregon joins 15 other states and U.S. territories that are on a 100% clean or renewable energy path either by legislation or executive order.

As of the passage of this Oregon law, 31 states have adopted renewable portfolio standards and increased those standards over time. These efforts collectively have produced more than 10% of this country’s electricity from renewable sources as of 2019.

State renewable portfolio standards collectively have produced more than 10% of this country’s electricity from renewable sources

In addition to these state governments, tribal nations are also at the forefront of efforts to curb climate change and protect their way of life. Nearly 50 of them have climate action plans in effect across North America, following in the steps of the Swinomish nation in the Pacific Northwest. The Swinomish were the first Native community to create climate adaptation plans, which include plans to protect salmon runs.

Coalitions to support global climate efforts

When the previous federal administration withdrew from the Paris Climate Accords in 2017, it prompted the formation of several coalitions to support global efforts to slow climate change. Those coalitions include the U.S. Climate Alliance, We Are Still In and America’s Pledge.

A group of 25 governors formed the U.S. Climate Alliance, pledging to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement and to keep temperatures below 1.5 degree Celsius. Together these states represent 62% of the U.S. economy, 56% of the U.S. population, and 43% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. These governors are committed to reducing their collective net carbon emissions by more than a quarter by 2025 and at least by half by 2030 (both below 2005 levels), and achieving overall net-zero emissions no later than 2050.

The US Climate Alliance states represent 62% of the U.S. economy, 56% of the U.S. population, and 43% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions

We Are Still In represents a diverse coalition of 3,900 chief executive officers, mayors, governors, tribal leaders, college presidents, faith leaders, health care executives, and more. Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former California Governor Jerry Brown created America’s Pledge initiative. The initiative pledges to collect data on climate actions, share findings, and create climate action roadmaps for businesses, cities, and states. These efforts are important because most Americans think the U.S. should participate in the Paris Agreement.

Regional partnerships

REV Midwest

In October 2021, the governors of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin created a bipartisan plan to build a regional charging network for electric vehicles. REV Midwest is expected to create demand for electric vehicles, and result in improved public health and cleaner air and water. Additionally, the governors expect this plan to spur economic growth with jobs for clean energy manufacturing and to encourage the widespread adoption of electric vehicles.

Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative

In 2009, an alliance of states formed the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. Today that initiative is made up of 11 Eastern states: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia. Since its formation, RGGI has decreased its emissions by more than 50%. When it first began, it was only the second program in the world to regulate emissions, inspiring subsequent carbon pricing programs that drew on lessons RGGI learned.

All of these efforts by states are paving the way for federal lawmakers. Perhaps we’re starting to see the first promising signs of meaningful investments to confront the climate crisis with the recently passed infrastructure bill headed to President Biden’s office. That bill includes $47 billion for climate resilience, representing the largest investment the U.S. has ever made to curb the effects of climate change. Now we’ll have to wait and see if Congress passes the reconciliation bill with an even larger investment, $555 billion, to prevent the worst climate change impacts.

Regardless of the outcome of that larger spending bill, it’s clear states have the power to move the needle on climate change regardless of federal action or inaction.


What the rest of us need to know about COP26

November 10, 2021

As world leaders convened in Glasgow, Scotland, for COP26 last week, it emerged that the United Kingdom’s most enduring patch of snow had melted completely. The patch, known as the Sphinx, had disappeared just three times over more than 200 years before the end of the last century. 

This latest melt is the fifth in less than 20 years.

The mythical sphinx, as you may remember from English lit class, killed anyone who could not answer its riddle. The question before attendees at COP26 is less a riddle than a Gordian knot: How do we untangle ourselves from fossil fuels and avert climate disaster? As with the sphinx’s challenge, the price for getting it wrong is extremely high. 

What is COP26?

COP refers to the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. (You can see why they shortened it.) This year’s event in Glasgow marks the 26th COP, which has taken place annually since 1995. The convention is actually a 1992 treaty that kicked off years of negotiations over the supreme riddle of how to avoid wrecking the climate. The Kyoto Protocol, which legally bound 37 countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions, followed in 1995. 

The Kyoto Protocol ran through the end of 2020 after being extended in 2012, but it’s widely seen as a failure. The United States bowed out of it in 2001, and fast-growing China and India were not among the countries with binding targets. At COP21 in 2015, the resulting Paris Agreement set a goal to limit the average global temperature increase to below 2C, preferably 1.5. As part of this, countries submitted their voluntary “nationally determined contributions” toward this goal. At the beginning of this year, the United States officially rejoined the agreement, reversing Donald Trump’s withdrawal.

Why is COP26 important?

Every COP is important, because it’s yet another chance for countries around the world to come together and work on this stubborn problem. It’s important—but does it actually bring change? An Eeyore type might point out that we’ve been at this for over a quarter of a century, yet global emissions are still on the rise. And this year’s G7 summit, a precursor of sorts to the COP26, had some rather underwhelming results.

A perennial sticking point at these negotiations is that, while there are technically 197 Parties at this climate shindig, only a handful of those are really driving up the thermometer. The world’s top 10 emitters, led by China, the United States, and the European Union, are responsible for over two-thirds of all greenhouse gases entering the planet’s atmosphere. So while countries like Vietnam and, say, Estonia might be running almost entirely on fossil fuels, transforming them into clean energy powerhouses like Costa Rica and Iceland isn’t going to be what really moves the needle. The big players need to be the ones to lead change, not least by opening their pocketbooks to fund it. 

Meanwhile, representatives from the countries hardest hit by climate change, poverty, and now the pandemic faced hurdles finding a place to sleep in Glasgow, if they could get to the conference at all.

COP26 certainly isn’t the only chance to deal with these longstanding inequities and make progress on the climate—but it’s a big one. Even though conferences like these may not spark immediate change, they can establish common ground, as the Paris Agreement did. “What happened in the last five years was the transformation of the mindset,” Laurence Tubiana, who helped draft the pact, told TIME in 2020. “The Paris Agreement [became] the norm, the reference for everybody to know where to go.”

We know where to go. The key question remains: How do we get there in time? As Scotland’s Sphinx turned to water, another ominous bulletin surfaced. A new analysis warned that our carbon budget—the amount of warming gases we can send into the air and still stay below 1.5C—will be used up within 11 years. 

The same report noted that some countries, including the United States, managed to achieve emissions declines over the past decade. “These successes can be replicated,” study co-author Corinne Le Quéré, a climate scientist at the University of East Anglia, told The Washington Post. “There is no reason why this cannot be set in motion other than political will.”

So there is part of the answer to the climate riddle, both incredibly simple and dauntingly complicated: political will. John Kerry, U.S. special presidential envoy for climate, wrote in an op-ed last week that COP26 “has already helped summon more ambition to face this emergency than the world has ever seen. In that regard, the summit has already achieved success.”

But of course, we need more than just will and ambition—and let’s not forget, international negotiations have delivered substantial change in the past. After all, the Montreal Protocol in 1987 drove a phaseout of the chlorofluorocarbons that were destroying Earth’s protective ozone layer. And indeed, COP26 so far has yielded pacts to end deforestation and cut methane, two potent contributors to the climate crisis. 

The warming that we have set in motion over decades of fossil fuel use won’t be reversed because of a two-week conference. But talks like COP26 can drive the many solutions that will be needed, including a major ramp-up of renewable energy and of zero-emission cars. Is Kerry premature in touting success at this year’s talks? Stay tuned for our wrap-up at the end of the conference, where we will recap what did—and didn’t—happen.


How Comedy Can Conquer Climate Change

November 3, 2021

As another international climate conference gets underway, it’s understandable to feel just a wee bit exhausted. Almost daily we’re bombarded by a litany of climate horrors, from wildfires in our backyards to wearying news of floods, heatwaves, and melting glaciers around the world. With all this gloom and doom, it’s no surprise that the media is reporting rising incidence of climate anxiety and eco-guilt about everything from flying in planes to having kids. All this bad news is affecting our mental well-being, contributing to existential dread and depression, particularly among young people. This psychic numbing isn’t just unhelpful, it can actually lead to paralysis in our efforts to address the climate crisis.

Fortunately, bombarding readers with mind-boggling data and the urgency of taking action aren’t the only tools in our toolbox. And they likely aren’t the best way to engage the mainstream. Studies show that narratives that rely heavily on “scientific ways of knowing” have failed to significantly engage and activate large audiences, and that gloomy interpretations actually stifle audiences rather than inspiring action. With this in mind, climate communicators have sought to adopt “smartening up” approaches that can more effectively bring people together around a divisive topic like climate change.

Enter: climate comedy

At the heart of these “new” approaches is comedy, which is actually a time-honored medium for getting people to pay attention to an issue. Humor isn’t simply a way to temporarily distract us from reality. It has wide-ranging psychological and behavioral benefits, by “bringing some light to the darkness.”

[Humor] has wide-ranging psychological and behavioral benefits, by “bringing some light to the darkness

A quick scan of the late-night comedy circuit reveals that climate change has become a hot topic, with everyone from Trevor Noah of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” to Jimmy Kimmel, host of ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” seizing the opportunity to use humor to increase understanding and engagement. In 2017, former Vice President Al Gore and late-night host Steven Colbert traded dueling climate change pickup lines on “The Late Show” (Colbert: “Is that an iceberg the size of Delaware breaking off the Antarctic ice shelf, or are you just happy to see me?”). Other notable venues that have integrated climate jokes into their routines include “Saturday Night Live,” “Last Week Tonight,” “Full Frontal,” and Sarah Silverman, as well as stage shows in Los Angeles, New York City, and Austin

Researchers, too, have sought to capitalize on the value of comedy as a form of creative climate communications. Maxwell Boykoff and Beth Osnes at the University of Colorado have done several studies on this, while also collaborating to get out humorous messages about climate change through the university’s Inside the Greenhouse projects (including “Stand Up for Climate Change,” where students write sketch comedy routines and perform them in front of live audiences). They’ve found that humor serves as an effective communications pathway for both the performers and the audience.

The genius of comedy

Comedy can influence the way we feel about (and act on) climate change. Here are a few of its advantages:

  • Tapping into emotion. Comedy (as well as storytelling, art, and other media) fundamentally engages people by tapping into their emotions, including feelings like fear, despair, hope, awe, and pride. All of these play a role in how we feel and think about problems—and whether or not we’re inspired to act on them. In a recent interview with Generation180, social scientist Ezra Markowitz noted that, “We need to engage the full suite of human emotions when communicating about climate change, allowing individuals and communities to respond in the ways that are most productive and supportive of meaningful, positive action for them.” Studies have shown that greater emotional engagement, such as through humor, is associated with more change in habits.

We need to engage the full suite of human emotions when communicating about climate change

  • Meeting folks “where they’re at.” Comedy also has the advantage of being a key element of popular culture, with comedians entering our psyches through everything from late-night television to hit podcasts and social media memes. Through comedy, it’s possible to bring climate stories to the masses, meeting people within their daily entertainment routines and challenging them to take on new information. As Markovitz explains, “It’s about working with your audience to identify what aspects of climate change can be integrated into their existing ways of understanding the world around them, and providing a new, yet relatable, lens through which to reassess what they know.”
  • Finding common ground. Humor is also a way to break down barriers and divisions among people and find common ground. That’s why cartoons and comics are considered a universal art form, transcending language and cultural barriers through their simple graphics and straightforward messaging (often with a twist). Comedy doesn’t simply lower people’s defenses, it “temporarily suspends social rules and connects people with ideas and new ways of thinking or acting.” As Boykoff points out: “Comedy exploits cracks in arguments. It wiggles in, pokes, prods and draws attention to the incongruous, hypocritical, false and pretentious.” In doing so, it can make complex issues like climate change seem more accessible and manageable.
  • Sparking reflection and evolving the conversation. Sometimes comedy can be disarming, exposing uncomfortable truths while also presenting the facts, all with a veneer of humor. In doing so, it encourages thought, reflection, and conversation about an issue that people may not otherwise engage on. In a 2018 study, Boykoff and Osnes analyzed a series of stand-up comedy shows focused on climate change, tracking how audiences responded over a three-year period. They found that climate comedy not only helps to raise awareness of climate change, but also brings an emotional element to the conversation, spurring both knowledge formation and problem solving. “Comedic approaches can influence how meanings course through the veins of our social body, shaping our coping and survival practices in contemporary life,” the researchers conclude.
  • Replacing despair with hope. The light-heartedness of comedy can also bring people to their “happy place,” giving them a sense of hope (and inspiration) despite the heaviness of the world. As psychologist Susan M. Koger has noted, “if there’s no hope, then there’s no reason to take action.” In a 2019 study, Boykoff and Osnes explored how “good-natured comedy” (as opposed to satire) helps people “positively process negative emotions regarding global warming” and “sustain hope.” The researchers found that after students participated in a number of comedy workshops related to climate change, 90 percent of the participants said they felt more hopeful about climate change, and 83 percent said they felt their commitment to taking action on the issue was stronger. 

If there’s no hope, then there’s no reason to take action

Overall, these findings suggest that comedy provides a way for participants to “process emotions that allow joy, fun, and hope to sustain their commitment to grow as climate communicators.” Moreover, the students reported that “flipping the script” on climate change—from doom and gloom to comedy—could also help others feel more empowered to take action. Ultimately, the goal of climate comedy (and similar creative communications) should be to “pair crisis narratives with solutions,” particularly by offering practical, meaningful pathways to action. As writer Nina Pullano concluded in a recent article: “Comedy won’t fix the climate crisis, to be sure. But in these trying times, it might be a key ingredient in helping us cope with the challenges—and respond to them.”

What to do…what to do…

Quick poll: even though the data seems to show its potential, does anyone think that humor has been leveraged enough in climate communications to date? We certainly don’t think so, and we’re ready to do something about it. Generation180 is thrilled to announce our brand-new podcast, Comedians Conquering Climate Change. It’s the funniest, most accessible, and shortest podcast addressing today’s critical climate and clean energy topics. Each week join comedian, writer, and teacher Esteban Gast as he enlists the help of fellow comedians to single-handedly save the planet.

Listen to our first episode below and subscribe on all of your favorite podcast services.